Climate Dispatches: The plastics pollution — climate change connection, and what we can do about it |

Climate Dispatches: The plastics pollution — climate change connection, and what we can do about it

The purpose of this ongoing series of “Climate Dispatches” is to share with our neighbors how climate change affects our community and how we can all make a meaningful difference.

Plastic pollution from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (incredibly twice the size of Texas; three times the size of France!) and the micro-plastics in our local water sources is a public health predicament demanding our attention.

Recent news about microplastics in our food and beverages heightens our concerns because plastic breaks down but never goes away. It will continually come back to us in unhealthy ways. This demands adopting the many available solutions to reduce our plastic uses.

Plastic pollution and climate change are directly related issues; both demand worldwide cooperation. They each originate from petroleum, with plastics from petrochemicals taking up to 10% of the total oil and gas produced. Documented analyses indicate that the production of plastics is only cost-effective if it is a proportional by-product of petroleum energy production. Therefore, as we transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and a healthy climate, we also will see the simultaneous transition away from wasteful single-use plastics production.

The onus is on us to reduce the demand for plastic, particularly plastic packaging …

But that will take years. So what can we do as individuals and within our mountain and foothill communities now?

First and foremost, we can take a critical look at our own habits and resist and reduce, eliminating single use plastics in our lives to the extent possible. No way are we getting rid of using plastic. It serves good purposes and is a necessity in many ways. However, there are common actions we can all take that simultaneously reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and single-use plastics:

Support bans on harmful single-use plastic products via local campaigns;

Minimize single-use plastics in our personal consumption;

Support environment-friendly restaurants and businesses that avoid plastic waste;

Reduce our personal greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on efficiency of our energy uses and electrifying (e.g. transitioning to electric cars, electric water and space heating) when we can.

Drive less and buy locally to reduce transportation uses of petroleum;

Urge our local, state, and federal government leaders to take action in support of reducing uses of both single-use plastics and petroleum.

Additionally there are some innovative actions that support the recycling of the plastic products that we use. One comes from “online recycling”, a concept used by companies like TerraCycle that are dedicated to zero waste. TerraCycle takes in our leftover plastic packaging, including plastic bags and film that cannot be recycled by firms such as Waste Management. They pulverize these and form the material into recycled plastic containers for specific companies with whom they have contracted.

As you purchase these products, you have a container you can feel good about. You can then send the container back, either to be refilled with its product or to TerraCycle to be made into another container. This keeps that plastic out of the waste stream. It costs a bit more than putting a single-use container out at the curb, but the satisfaction of knowing that this plastic will definitely be recycled and kept out of dumps is its selling point.

The onus is on us to reduce the demand for plastic, particularly plastic packaging, which then backs up to the suppliers to make less. This requires less petroleum thereby decreasing the need for drilling and fracking for it. We can scrutinize the packaging before we buy and find alternatives. We can remember to take a paper or cloth bag, or take our groceries out in the cart to the car.

We can advocate for new plastic recycling bills such as the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Act AB 1080/SB 54 that is awaiting passage Another bill being introduced at the federal level is HB 5845. This bill makes certain producers (manufacturers) of products fiscally responsible for collecting, managing, and recycling or composting, post-consumer use. All such bills need the voices of people who care about the health and pollution issues of plastic trash to rise up.

It is now essential for each of us to readjust our thinking about plastic consumption. We can take pride in avoiding single-use containers and materials, capturing our plastic waste, and recycling it to the extent possible. These go hand in hand with our commitment to reduce uses of fossil fuels. Let’s get creative together in finding ways to make such a difference!

Shirley Freriks is a Grass Valley resident and leader of the local Elders Action/Elders Climate Action Network. John Sorensen is a Truckee resident and founder of Elders Action Network and its Northern California climate action project.

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